If you’re coming to North Jersey this month, and looking for where to get the best food, you don’t need to cross the river. Stay right in Jersey, and forget about worrying about parking, and tunnel traffic. North Jersey is one of the best kept secrets in the country for taking a food vacation. The pizza beats Manhattan, Jersey hot dogs belong at the top of any list, and there isn’t a city in the country that beats Newark’s Ironbound district for Spanish food. We picked out eleven authentic Jersey joints that are so good, you’d leave the city to drive to them. Eleven great Jersey meals– some of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Don’t be afraid to drive a little. It’s worth it.
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Star Tavern gives any New York pizzeria a run for its money and will beat any Manhattan pizza place. Think super thin crust, delicious sauce, and fantastic toppings. The sausage is spicy and delicious and the pepperoni has the perfect flavor and crunch. But be careful, with pizza this thin you don’t want to overload the toppings. In fact, don’t be afraid to go straight up plain here. No slices, this is table service or take out only. It’s located about 25 minutes from Met Life Stadium. There’s a small parking lot attached, and plenty of street parking.
Just a half a block away from Star Tavern is the locally famous Jimmy Buffs. They’ve been around since 1932– that’s 82 years if you don’t feel like doing the math. Not many people outside of Jersey are familiar with the Italian Hot Dog, but you should be. Hot dogs cooked in hot oil stuffed into a quarter of a wheel-shaped pizza bread. Add in fried potatoes, onions and peppers, salt, pepper and mustard and you’re done. Or grab a double– two dogs on a half moon of bread. Don’t skip the potatoes. They’re not just good, they’re f*cking great.
If you’re in New Jersey, you obviously want to go to a diner and you’d be crazy not to grab yourself a Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese on a hard roll. Why? Because you can’t get it anywhere else in the country and it is amazing. First thing in the morning, after a late roll out of bed, or late at night, go to the diner and order breakfast. If ThE&C is not your speed, stay with breakfast. Diners are well known for their gigantic menu, but don’t get too adventurous. We like the Tick Tock because it’s located on Route 3 just a few short miles from Rutherford, and the Tick Tock comes along with its own Soprano’s style backstory. But don’t let that stop you from going in for a bite. Expect the Tick Tock to be busy this month, but it’s open 24 hours so you will have no problem finding time to eat there. If you can’t get there, don’t worry there are plenty of Jersey diners where you can go grab that Taylor Ham Sammidge. To find the Tick Tock, head westbound on Route 3 and look for the signs, you can’t miss it.
New Jersey’s other famous dog, the Ripper is located right down the street from the Tick Tock– so it’s also a quick drive from the stadium. It got the nickname ‘the ripper’ because of the way the skin tears and crunches when deep fried. Our favorite food critic Michael Stern describes it best: “The oil bath turns the pork-and-beef links rugged, dark, and chewy on the outside, while the interior remains soft and juicy. …get one well-done, which is so porcine that it reminds us of fried pig skin.” You’ll find Rutts on Route 3 just a few parking lots down from the Tick Tock. Head west from Rutherford into Clifton and you can’t miss it.
Continuing with the old-school theme, you can’t get any older-school than Belmont Tavern. This best kept secret might be the greatest old-school Italian restaurant in the metropolitan area. Celebs from all over the country who have been lucky enough to find out about it have taken trips to Belmont or “Stretch’s” as it’s known to regulars (most recently, Clint Eastwood). Stretch’s is family run– from the guys behind the bar to whoever is in kitchen that night, and you’ll find the walls covered with photos of the countless famous celebs who have visited. There are so many great things on this menu- you can’t go wrong. The complimentary escarole salad kicks it all off. Delicious! Then you’ll want to move on to shrimp oreganato or clams oreganato. If that doesn’t turn you on, go for the Shrimp Beeps, hot or sweet. Or get them all. But save room, because it keeps getting better. For the pasta course you can’t beat the Cavatelli with pot cheese in Stretch’s homemade gravy. And top it all off with Mad Chicken (a spicy chicken on the bone) or their famous Chicken Savoy. Don’t be put off if your waitress gets impatient or yells at you. Hey, they’re busy. And you’ll be better off if you don’t think of them as “trained waitstaff” that need to live up to your expectations. Think of them as the people who are nice enough to let you into their home, and share their grandma’s home cooking with you and you’ll be fine.
The Ironbound section of Newark is famous for having the best Spanish food in the Northeast (if not the entire USA). Forget going to Manhattan if you want Paella, Chorizo and Sangria cause you won’t beat Newark’s Spanish and Portuguese restaurants. If you have a big group, this is the perfect choice. Order a bunch of apps (chorizo and garlic shrimp are mandatory in our opinion) a few paellas, maybe a steak on a stone (trust us) and keep the pitchers of sangria coming. Save a little room for the awesome salad and thin crispy spanish potatoes. If you can’t get in to Fornos, there are plenty of alternatives. Try nearby Taste of Portugal or Spanish Pavilion.
You can’t get this anywhere but here!!!! This version of the sloppy joe only exists in a small little section of Northern New Jersey. You won’t even find it in the Jewish Delicatessens of New York. We can’t figure out why other parts of the country haven’t tried to duplicate this triple decker sandwich on ultra thin rye, loaded with turkey, corned beef and roast beef, topped off with layers of coleslaw and russian dressing. Don’t forget the sour pickles on the side, they are essential. There are variations on the classic but start there. Town Hall invented it but you can get great versions at Millburn Deli in Millburn NJ (also famous for a long list of signature sandwiches), or Eppes Essen or Nana’s Deli both in Livingston.
Remember when going out for a steak used to mean going to a great neighborhood bar, where they’d have the game on the tv and big mugs of beer on tap? Those steakhouses have all but disappeared in favor of upscale steak restaurants but that’s exactly what you’ll get at Arthurs. Steak at Arthurs means a 24 or 48 oz flavorful Delmonico rib eye steak perfectly grilled with a side of home-fry-style potatoes that are as good as the steak itself. You don’t have to dress up or make a reservation here, it’s casual. There are a few menu options but you’d be crazy to order anything other than the steak or the hamburger. There are three restaurants bearing the name Arthurs Tavern but only one is worth the trip– Arthurs Tavern in Morris Plains. They have been family owned, and operated, which is probably why the quality has never slipped. It’s going to take you a little bit further away from Met Life stadium (just under an hour), but you’re better off spending the time driving, than waiting for a table closer to Rutherford. Don’t have a car? No problem. The Morris Plains train station is right across the street.
If you’re staying near the stadium, this one is also a bit of a drive (about an hour), but Sammys in Mendham is such a unique place it’s worth the trip. There is no sign outside so you will want to look at a photo of this place before you head out or you will never find it. Years ago Sammy’s had only two things on the menu– Steak , Lobster, or Steak and Lobster). In recent years they’ve added a few other options but you shouldn’t bother looking at them. Stick with the food that earned Sammy’s its status. You place your order when you walk in the door, and then you’re escorted downstairs to hang out in the bar/game room. There’s plenty of old school arcade games and a full bar to keep you busy while you wait, which is good, because you’re going to wait. Sammy’s doesn’t take reservations and there’s always a crowd. But the good news is, they’ve already started preparing your dinner while you wait, so once you’re seated, it won’t be long before you start eating. It’s a fun night, particularly if you have a large group, and the food is excellent. Order extra fries– their twice fried duckfat french fries are alone worth the trip. It’s not cheap, but it will be memorable. Dress casual.
Go for the homemade sliced roast beef sandwiches loaded with homemade mozzarella (mutz), gravy and onions on fresh Hoboken baked rolls daily. It’s old school, cash only, and there’s often a line. Be prepared and decide what you want while you’re waiting, cause they like to keep the line moving. Don’t wait to get to the front to see a menu– you won’t find one. Just tell them what you want on your sandwich– we suggest the Roast Beef and Mutz with gravy and onions. Bring an extra one back with you in case you get hungry later.
It’s a diner. It’s a burger joint. It’s a diner burger joint. Actually there are two classic joints– White Mana and White Manna and both are Jersey famous. White Manna is known more for the better food and has been featured on Diners Drive Ins and Dives, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, No Reservations and Man vs Food. White Mana, is a major a historic landmark. The structure itself was introduced at the 1939 Worlds Fair. Can’t decide? Visit both. Oh yeah, and order the burger.
You don’t want to get caught on Super Bowl weekend without a good set of smokes for after the game. If you didn’t come prepared, don’t worry, you have two places to go to stock up. Both stores are giant warehouse sized rooms full of everything from the exotic to cheap/bulk smokes. JR Cigar on Route 17 in Paramus is closer to the stadium, but JR in Whippany has the Montecristo lounge where you can eat, drink and smoke like the old days, before smokers became the forbidden people. The five packs are their specialty with the best prices in the area.
Click on our Map to go to an interactive version with directions, addresses and more photos.
We had such a large response to people wanting to add their favorites to the list in the comments, in phone calls and emails, that we decided to add an honor roll of other places recommended by all of you. Some of these we know and love, and some we’ll be checking out in the near future. And read the comments to find many more outstanding recommendations.
Dickie Dees in Newark (various- great italian hot dogs) Topps Diner in East Newark (various- one of the best diner in North Jersey) Johnny and Hanges in Paterson (HR Johnnie- more hot dogs), Lido in Hackensack (via Mark- best thin pizza for 50 years), The Brownstone Diner in Jersey City (via Dave- get the pancake wrap), The Polish Kitchen in Garfield (via Chris- authentic polish food), Biancamanos in Hoboken (various- amazing sandwiches) The Hot Grill in Clifton (via Paul-2 Dogs all the way), Antonio’s Mozzarella Factory in Springfield (via Ken), Angelo’s in Lyndhurst (via Butch- get veal scallopini), Iberia Riodizio in Newark (via Matt), Spirito’s in Elizabeth (via John- get the ravioli), Pizzatown USA in Elmwood Park (via Andrea- since 1958), Royal Warsaw in Elmwood Park (via GVAC- great polish food), Lenny and Johns in Bloomfield (via Tom, great sandwiches), Andreas Salumeria in Jersey City (via Rob-great sandwiches big as your forearm)